You and your dentist have two choices when it comes to fillings: amalgam (a mixture of metals) and resin composite (ceramic and plastic compound). Each type of filling has advantages and drawbacks. You and your dentist can decide which type of filling is best for you, taking into account the size and location of the cavity, your dental history, cosmetic concerns and cost. If you have any questions about fillings, ask your dentist.
Why Dental Fillings Are Important?
Before diving into the pros and cons of the materials used for dental fillings, let’s discuss what a dental filling is and how it can improve oral health and beauty. Dental fillings are designed to replace decay in tooth enamel and restore a tooth’s appearance, strength, and structure. Although dental enamel is the strongest tissue in your body, it is susceptible to bacteria.
Plaque is a naturally occurring matrix of minerals and bacteria that forms on teeth. As plaque builds up, bacteria accumulate. The bacteria eat starches and sugars, then create an acidic byproduct. Acid softens enamel, causing erosion, dental sensitivity, and allowing bacteria can invade and cause cavities. If left untreated, the harmful bacteria eat away enamel and underlying tissue, causing a cavity. Left untreated, the decay can penetrate a tooth’s canal, which results in the need for root canal therapy or tooth extraction.
To place a dental filling, the dentist will remove bacteria and decay, thoroughly clean the tooth, and apply a dental filling into the prepared hole to reinforce the tooth’s structural integrity. With the dental filling in place, you can enjoy restored function and better oral health.
What is Dental Amalgam Fillings?
Commonly known as silver fillings, amalgam fillings are made up of a combination of metals. The metals used to create the amalgam material include mercury, copper, tin, and silver.
In comparison to its successor, dental amalgam have shown to withstand the test of time, as they can last up to eight to ten years, and sometimes, even more. By far, they are the best option to fill cavities located in the back of the mouth, as the area is constantly getting wet. Other factors that make dental amalgam a great choice; it is cost-effective and easy to maintain. The only disadvantage that people see is its color.
The color of the dental amalgam is silver and is visible when someone talks or opens their mouth. Still, most people go with this option, as it costs less, their dental plan covers it, and they do not have to worry about going to the dentist in one to two years to get the cavity filled in again, which is a relief.
Some of the advantages of choosing an amalgam filling include:
- Using proven dental technology – amalgam fillings have been used in the dental industry since 1895
- Cost effective – amalgam fillings are the cheapest way to treat dental cavities and tooth decay
- Long lifespans – amalgam fillings can last anywhere from 10 to 15 or 20 years
- Strong and sturdy
Some of the disadvantages associated with the use of amalgam fillings include:
- Extremely noticeable – amalgam fillings appear as large, noticeable silver spots
- Weakens teeth over time – over time amalgam fillings can actually weaken the natural tooth. When this happens there is an increased chance that the tooth may shatter, break, or split in half
- Allergies – people who are sensitive to metals may not be able to handle amalgam fillings as they can develop an allergic reaction to them
- Possible health risks – some people believe using amalgam for a dental filling can lead to a number of health problems ranging from autoimmune diseases to cancer
- More complex aftercare require – there are a number of instructions for aftercare you must follow, such as avoiding certain foods and drinks, when you get an amalgam filling
- Tooth sensitivity – some people experience tooth sensitivity after an amalgam filling
What are Composite Fillings?
Composite resin fillings have a number of different names. They are sometimes called tooth-colored fillings or white fillings. They get this name because they are made out of a strong, sturdy plastic or ceramic compound that can blend in with the teeth’s natural appearance.
In the beginning, dentists were not able to use composite fillings in the back of the mouth, as the resin compounds were not strong enough to handle chewing and grinding. Since they were the same shade as a person’s teeth, dentists used them in the front teeth, but that was a long time ago.
Now, dentists are able to use composite fillings in the back of the mouth, but some dentists do not choose to for few reasons. Some dental plans do not cover composite fillings, unless they are used in the front teeth to restore a person’s smile. Other reasons dentists choose to forgo this advanced method is that even with the advancement, they do not last a long time and can wear out easily due to chewing and grinding. Hence, dentists choose to go with the older and tested option of dental amalgam fillings.
Advantages of composite resin fillings include:
- Improves cosmetic appearance – the fillings blend in naturally with your teeth and are less noticeable when you smile or open your mouth wide
- Material bonds directly to your tooth
- More of your natural tooth is preserved as there is less drilling involved
- Fewer aftercare instructions
- Less tooth sensitivity after the procedure
Disadvantages of composite resin fillings include:
- Procedure takes longer – dentists need to prep the tooth, mix the composite resin solution to create the right shade, place it in the tooth and then go through a bonding process to adhere the material to the tooth
- Shorter lifespan – composite fillings only last approximately 5 to 8 years
- Cost more than other filling materials
Factors to Consider When Choosing Which Material to Use for Dental Fillings
Together you and your dentist can determine which material, amalgam or composite resin, is the best for choice for an upcoming dental restoration procedure by discussing the pros and cons of each material.
In addition to discussing the pros and cons of each material, you and your dentist will need to carefully consider several things before making a final decision about which dental filling material to use. Some of the things you will need to consider include:
- Location of the filling -A tooth close to the front of your mouth that is easily seen when smiling or laughing will look more natural with a composite filling. For teeth in the back of the mouth that have greater decay, an amalgam filling is the better choice, due to its durability and longevity. If you are concerned about aesthetics or the mercury content in filling, ask your dentist if a dental crown, inlay, or onlay may be a good alternative.
- Size of the cavity – larger cavities may need a stronger filling material as the filling also serves as a stabilizer for the tooth
- Dental history
- Cosmetic concerns – people worried about having noticeable fillings may want to consider composite resin fillings as those look more natural
When You Want to Make the Switch
For those who are getting a filling, all you have to do is ask for a porcelain filling, ceramic filling, or tooth-colored filling. The dentist will know what you mean and will probably ask if you know you’ll have to pay whatever is left over after the insurance company reviews the service.
If you already have amalgam fillings, you can have them replaced. Not all dentists replace amalgam fillings. It is a process that requires safety measures to be addressed. Since removing the amalgam fillings can lead to mercury dust and gas floating in the area, it’s important the dentist have experience performing this type of procedure. This includes being able to remove the metal fillings with minimal debris, wears specialty gloves, and ensure there’s enough ventilation and air filtration.
Once the amalgam fillings are removed, the dentist can put in tooth-colored ones. It’s done in just the same way as they would be put in if you decided to get a tooth-colored one in the first place.
Amalgam does cost less than the alternative – composite resin fillings. Since metal is less expensive to produce, most dentists offer it. Patients often choose metal fillings because they are cheaper.